Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Entebbe on the 40th anniversary of the hostage rescue mission in which his brother was killed: “The raid on Entebbe was a watershed moment in the life of my people. For centuries, we were stateless and powerless to defend ourselves. No one came to our rescue. We were murdered by the millions. The rise of Israel changed all that. Time and again, Israel has successfully defended itself against enemies committed to our destruction. But it was perhaps at Entebbe where this fundamental transformation was most dramatically seen by the world. On July 4, 1976, Israel launched the most daring rescue mission of all time to save our captive brethren in the heart of Africa.” (His full remarks are below.)
Please also see this related dispatch: African countries (including Muslim ones) significantly strengthen ties with Israel (& an amusing speech)
ENTEBBE, A SUPERHUMAN FEAT
[Note by Tom Gross]
Today marks 40 years since one of the most daring rescue missions ever was carried out. While Americans were celebrating the bicentennial of their country, on July 4 1976, Israel launched a highly complex and dangerous rescue operation more than 2,500 miles away in the heart of one of Africa’s worst dictatorships.
Camouflaged Israeli planes with commandos and army medics on board flew extremely low over the Red Sea to avoid detection by Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia in order to rescue the Air France passengers that had been kidnapped after takeoff from Athens by Palestinian and German terrorists and diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the terrorists were joined by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s military forces.
ORDERS IN GERMAN TO SEPARATE THE JEWISH PASSENGERS
In an echo of the Nazis, the German terrorists (members of the left-wing Baader-Meinhof group), screaming orders at the passengers in German, had helped the Palestinians “select” the Jewish passengers (both Israelis and non-Israelis). The 142 non-Jewish passengers were released, leaving behind 106 Jewish ones.
As Ruthie Blum points out in an article in Israel Hayom: “The Entebbe raid was not only a superhuman feat; it set a bar that no country, including Israel, has managed to reach, let alone outdo, since then. Three years later, when 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionaries, the administration in Washington, under President Jimmy Carter, was so bent on finding a peaceful solution to the crisis, that, by the time it gave the green light to launch a rescue operation, the mission failed miserably.”
THE BROTHERS NETANYAHU
Three of the hostages died during the rescue (and one, an elderly Jewish woman, Dora Bloch, who had been separated from the others, was subsequently murdered on the orders of Amin) but more than 100 hostages were saved. Only one Israeli commando died -- Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, who led the mission.
Attached below is an interview with his brother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the New York Times. (It is, incidentally, one of fairest pieces on Netanyahu I have read in the Times; its co-author Isabel Kershner seems to many readers a much more objective journalist than most other foreign and comment staff there who write on the Middle East.)
Netanyahu is visiting Uganda today to take part in a ceremony commemorating the rescue and his brother’s death. I attach a transcript of his remarks below, after the New York Times interview.
In addition to paying tribute to the rescued and murdered Israelis and Jews, Netanyahu says “I wish to pay my respects to the Captain of the hijacked plane, Michel Bacos, who is in France. He and his crew stayed with the hostages out of an amazing sense of responsibility.”
I have noted before in these dispatches how the government of Kenya, which was the only democracy in the region at the time, quietly helped Israeli special forces with logistics, including refueling capabilities, and provided a forward intelligence base for the Mossad to help plan the Entebbe raid.
(Israel has on many occasions returned the favor to Kenya – including providing vital intelligence, humanitarian, rescue and other help to the injured following the 1998 United States Embassy bombing in Nairobi which killed over 200 people, and the 2013 Westgate shopping mall siege by Al-Shabab Islamic terrorists in Nairobi in which 67 people were killed.)
WALDHEIM CONDEMNS ISRAEL FOR SAVING JEWS
Following the Entebbe rescue mission, the UN Security Council held a debate to condemn Israel for rescuing the hostages and the Sec-General of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, the former Nazi officer who had helped murder thousands of Greek and Croatian Jews in the Holocaust, described the Israeli rescue mission as a “serious violation of a member state’s sovereignty”.
IDI AMIN’S SON: I WANT TO APOLOGIZE
To mark the 40th anniversary of the rescue mission, Idi Amin’s son (who was 10 at the time of the Entebbe hijacking) has granted an interview to the best-selling Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, saying that he wants to visit Israel and meet with the families of the Entebbe victims and apologize.
REPUGNANT ARTICLES STIRRING UP HATRED OF JEWS
Not only has the Israeli daily Haaretz printed some repugnant comment pieces on Elie Wiesel, which if reproduced on a neo-Nazi website (and indeed many of the more extreme Haaretz comment articles are) would rightly be condemned as anti-Semitism, it has also published vicious op-eds on Entebbe such as the one headlined “Entebbe the Musical, Starring, Directed and Produced by Benjamin Netanyahu: The prime minister will use his visit to Africa to strengthen his family’s cult of the individual.”
(That is not to say that Haaretz doesn’t have much fine journalism and outstanding writers – but this doesn’t excuse the regular drip, drip, drip of articles published in English by Haaretz encouraging worldwide anti-Israel sentiment, as well as on occasion anti-Semitism.)
-- Tom Gross
Please also see this related dispatch: African countries (including Muslim ones) significantly strengthen ties with Israel (& an amusing speech)
You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia
1. “Netanyahu traces path to power back to Entebbe, and lost brother” (By Jeffrey Gettleman and Isabel Kershner, New York Times, July 4, 2016)
2. Benjamin Netanyahu speech in Entebbe, today (July 4, 2016)
3. “Entebbe and the price of freedom” (By Jonathan Tobin, Commentary, July 4, 2016)
4. “This is how the State of Israel was born again 40 years ago” (By Fiamma Nirenstein, Il Giornale (Italy), July 2, 2016)
NETANYAHU TRACES PATH TO POWER BACK TO ENTEBBE, AND LOST BROTHER
Netanyahu Traces Path to Power Back to Entebbe, and Lost Brother
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Isabel Kershner
New York Times
July 4, 2016
JERUSALEM – Whenever he is facing a critical decision, whether for his country’s military or his own personal life, there is one person Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel says he routinely consults: his dead brother.
In a rare and unusually reflective interview, Mr. Netanyahu said he frequently held “hypothetical” conversations with Yonatan, a legendary figure in Israel who was cut down in his prime exactly 40 years ago as a young commando leading a daring hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda.
“Often I have to dispatch people to places where if there’s a failure, they won’t come back,” Mr. Netanyahu said in the interview on Friday in his Jerusalem office. “It’s in times like these that I consult with my brother – and they’re a lot more frequent than you might think.”
The prime minister set off early Monday on the same route as his older brother on the fateful day, flying across the Red Sea and into the heart of Africa to commemorate the Entebbe raid, and to push Israel’s interests on a continent that is ripe for investment and that Israel sees as a much-needed ally in an increasingly hostile world.
He is making the pilgrimage during something of an Entebbe renaissance. A book of testimonies by his brother’s fellow commandos in the operation, which was renamed posthumously in Yonatan’s honor, just came out in Hebrew; a new historical exhibit is up in Tel Aviv; and a leading Israeli newspaper has been running serialized articles. There has also been a blast of public commentary, some of it sharply questioning the lionization of Yoni, as he is better known.
The unusual partnership of the two brothers – one dead, one alive – has deeply changed this young country.
Benjamin Netanyahu, known as Bibi, is on track to be Israel’s longest-serving leader, and he traces his path to power directly back to his brother’s death. At the same time, the legend of Yoni Netanyahu – warrior, poet, inspirer, killer – has been shrewdly cultivated by his powerful family.
Israel has lost many soldiers in battle. Few have had as many streets, schools and parks named after them. Yoni and Bibi. Bibi and Yoni. For years, these paired nicknames have been hard to escape.
Mr. Netanyahu, 66, is calculating and gruff; he picks his words slowly and carefully, his deep voice coming across almost like a grumble. But when he spoke about his older brother, he seemed to drop his guard, at least a little.
“He had the soul of a poet,” the prime minister began. “He was a great writer, a great thinker, but he was also a man of action; he was a commander in battle unsurpassed, unmatched; he had the capacities of thought and action, rumination and purpose …” His voice trailed off. “He had a great soul.”
Looking back on Yoni Netanyahu is like looking back on any hero. It is hard to get a sense of what is real and what is myth.
He was the family star: a brilliant soccer player, a student council president, on the dean’s list at Harvard. By 1976, he was the commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Sayeret Matkal, an elite, highly secretive unit of commandos specializing in what military analysts call “close work.”
On June 27 of that year, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris with more than 200 passengers. It was an era of hijackings: Benjamin Netanyahu, also in Sayeret Matkal, had been wounded during the freeing of a hijacked plane in Israel in 1972.
But the terrorists had learned from that one. This time they had the jet flown farther away than they thought the Israelis could ever reach, to the main airport in Entebbe, Uganda, which was in the grip of one of the most destructive and cartoonish characters to ever rule in Africa, Idi Amin.
Amin, who called himself the uncrowned king of Scotland and the “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas,” had recently thrown in his lot with the Arab world, and he dispatched his soldiers to surround the hostages at the Entebbe airport.
The Israelis, at first, were inclined to meet the terrorists’ demands and free dozens of prisoners. It seemed impossible to stage a rescue.
Uganda was more than 2,000 miles away. Few of Israel’s planes had that range, and if anything went wrong, there was no backup. This was before cellphones and satellite images became ubiquitous: The Israelis did not even know how many Ugandan soldiers were guarding the airport or exactly where the hostages were being housed.
“The distance was long, time was short, and the situation was blind,” recalled Shimon Peres, 92, who was Israel’s defense minister at the time and went on to be prime minister and president.
It was when the terrorists began separating the Jews from the non-Jews, readying them for execution, that things changed. Mr. Peres, who lost members of his family in the Holocaust, remembered saying: “What? Again? Now that we have an independent Israel? No way.”
Within a few days, a long-shot plan began to take shape, and a key figure in forming it, former soldiers and officials said in recent interviews, was Yoni Netanyahu.
The idea was to land a cargo plane at night with a car inside, and have the commandos simply drive up to the airport as if they were Amin and his entourage returning from an overseas trip.
The plan almost worked. The Israelis landed without incident.
But as they were cruising up to the terminal in a black Mercedes-Benz doctored to look like Amin’s car, a Ugandan sentry stepped out from the darkness. Yoni shot at him, sparking gunfire that blew the Israelis’ cover.
When the hostages inside the airport heard all the shooting, “we were sure that was it,” recalled Sara Guter Davidson, who had been traveling to Paris with her family. “I just waited for my bullet, trying to cover my son.”
But in the smoke, fire and noise, miraculously, the hostages heard Hebrew.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Davidson said. “We could never even dream our army could get there.”
The Israelis rushed in, shot all the terrorists, and spirited out more than 100 people who were being held at the airport. Three hostages were killed in the crossfire, and one person lay slumped outside: Yoni, who had been shot in the chest.
There is still debate over who fired the bullet. A German? A Palestinian? A Ugandan soldier?
Back then, Israeli commandos did not wear body armor; it was too bulky, slowed them down. As Mr. Netanyahu’s other brother, Iddo, a doctor and a writer, said, in operations like these the difference between success and failure “hinges on a few seconds.”
Yoni Netanyahu, 30, died from internal bleeding shortly before the Israeli planes took off, capping one of the most dramatic rescues ever attempted and changing the world, in a way.
Israel, which had been wallowing in the shadow of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, got a huge morale boost; Jews around the world were proud.
Amin’s downfall was hastened.
“Amin’s soldiers were furious,” said Ibrahim Mukiibi, who worked for Uganda’s foreign service at the time. “They were harassing everybody, out of anger, because they had been humiliated.”
After that, Amin began acting “more ferociously,” Mr. Mukiibi said. Soon most of the population had turned against him.
Yoni Netanyahu, the only Israeli soldier killed at Entebbe, became an icon in Israel and across the Jewish diaspora. Two movies about the raid came out in the next year, and a book of Yoni’s letters was eventually published, showing his intense patriotism and sensitivity. He had killed many people in battle and did not necessarily feel good about it, writing: “It adds a whole dimension of sadness to a man’s being.”
Benjamin Netanyahu said in the interview that Yoni’s death marked the birth of his political life. He organized conferences on terrorism, arguing that it was a new form of proxy warfare, in this case a way for Arab countries that had suffered military defeats to strike back at Israel.
Israel’s incoming ambassador to Washington was impressed. He asked Mr. Netanyahu if he wanted to serve as the embassy’s No. 2. That is how he began climbing what he called the “staircase” of Israeli politics.
Forty years later, the debate still rages: Should Yoni have fired at the sentry? Has his heroism been exaggerated?
“The Netanyahu family won the Israel branding championship and minimized the role of every other officer,” read a column published last year in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The prime minister seems to have steeled himself to such critiques, which resurface every year around the July 4 anniversary of Entebbe.
“The facts speak for themselves,” he said curtly.
When asked what he would have done had he been the prime minister at the time, facing spotty intelligence, the lives of 100 innocents on the line and long odds, Mr. Netanyahu looked around the room and paused for a few moments.
A military helicopter’s rotor blades beat outside. Bright Jerusalem sunshine flooded through the windows.
“Wow, I can’t tell you what I would have done,” he said. But, he continued, “I can tell you, without getting into details, what I have done, and the fact is, we’ve taken great risks, but you don’t necessarily know about them.”
As he said, whenever he has doubts about which way to go, he has a sounding board who is always available: Yoni.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU IN ENTEBBE
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today (Monday, 4 July 2016), in Entebbe, Uganda, made the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. President, for your gracious invitation, your extraordinary friendship in hosting this ceremony. With your permission, sir, I’d like to say first a few words in Hebrew to my people back home, but also to the soldiers and commanders who are with us today, many of whom participated in the historic rescue mission.
I am moved standing here as the Prime Minister of Israel, in this place that brought endless pride to our soldiers, to the IDF and to our nation. I am moved standing here, in the place where IDF soldiers liberated the hostages in the heart of Africa, thousands of kilometers from Israel, with the commanders and soldiers who took part in the operation. I am moved standing here with the relatives of Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Ida Boruhovitch, Pasco Cohen and Dora Bloch, who lost their lives at Entebbe. I am moved standing here in this place, right in the place where my brother Yoni, commander of the Special Forces unit, was killed while leading the force that stormed the old terminal, overcame the terrorists and freed the hostages.
Here, where the old terminal stood, our brethren were held hostage by cruel terrorists, and this is where our soldiers came to rescue them in a brilliant mission that is almost unparalleled in history. Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, in my consciousness and deep in my heart.
The hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe touched a raw nerve with the people of Israel. Thirty-one years after the Holocaust, Jews again had to undergo a separation of Jews and non-Jews by those who wanted to kill us. The terrorists freed the hostages of other nationalities, but they condemned the Jews to the terror of death.
Essential intelligence was provided by members of the Mossad, and the determination of the commanders, the soldiers and the pilots helped convince the Government of Israel to act. Each of you, soldiers and pilots who flew to Entebbe, those who are here and those who are not, members of the Air Force, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, the Paratroopers, the Golani Brigade and the Medical Corps, each of you flew here without knowing if you would come home. You came to rescue, but you knew that in the event there was a problem, there would be no one to rescue you. And despite this, each of you fought to be on the planes because you understood the importance of the mission.
The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deserves tremendous respect for the leadership he showed when making the fateful decision to embark on the operation. Senior partners who approved the operation and its execution include Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, Chief of General Staff Motta Gur, Air Force Commander Benny Peled, Commander of the Infantry and Paratroopers Branch Dan Shomron, who commanded the entire operation, Commander of the Paratroopers Matan Vilnai, Commander of the Golani Brigade Uri Sagi and Commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, my brother Yoni.
The General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, its commanders and its soldiers were tasked with the mission of killing the terrorists, incapacitating Idi Amin’s soldiers, grounding the MiGs and releasing the hostages. In less than an hour, our soldiers were back on their planes, but this time with the hostages, on their way home.
I wish to pay my respects to the Captain of the hijacked plane, Michel Bacos, who is in France. He and his crew stayed with the hostages out of an amazing sense of responsibility. For the families of the hostages killed during the operation and directly afterwards, the price was unbearable. The same is true for my family and for me. When Yoni died, our world was destroyed.
Not a day goes by that I do not think what might have been. If only I had not refused the unit commander, the late Uzi Yairi, who asked me to go to officers’ school. If only I had not consulted that Saturday with my older brother, who had just returned from Harvard and told me, “What’s the problem? Tell Uzi Yairi that I’ll take your place.” And then maybe Yoni wouldn’t have come to the unit, and then maybe he would not have died here at Entebbe. In any event, a short while after Yoni joined the unit, I also joined the officers’ course and we served together as commanders in the Special Forces unit.
Grief struck us, my family and the families of the hostages, as it strikes many families in Israel today, during these times of great cruelty. And despite this, the power of life sweeps us forward, and it brings us to times of hope and joy. However, the scars always remain, and they are not limited to bereavement. For 40 years, Paratrooper Surin Hershko has lived with the results of his serious injury. Surin told me more than once that if he had to do it all over again, even knowing the price, he would not hesitate for a moment. Surin Hershko represents the best, the most beautiful and noble parts of our people.
At Entebbe, justice overcame evil, and for this simple reason, the operation has earned the sympathy of the world and its praise. Operation Jonathan at Entebbe has become the symbol of standing strongly against terror. It set the rule that when the location of the hostages is known – action should be taken to rescue them. It improved Israel’s standing in the worlds and struck a deadly blow against terrorism. The battle against terrorism continues today. Terror threatens all countries and all continents, and we must stand against it united in spirit, a united front, in the spirit of Entebbe. This is the only way we will beat it.
Dear soldiers who fought in Entebbe, you were privileged to take part in an operation that will remain engraved in the history of our people for generations, and which is burned into the heart of everyone who wants peace. Those who follow in your footsteps, IDF soldiers from the same units that participated in the operation, are here today. As Prime Minister, I can tell you they carry the same spirit with them in their overt and covert missions, those close to home and those far away.
On behalf of the people and State of Israel, I salute you all.
President Museveni, I want to thank you also for hosting the other African leaders who have so graciously come to meet me. The historic summit that will be held later today between the leaders of seven African countries and Israel testifies to the dramatic changes taking place in the relationship between Israel and Africa.
Africa is a continent on the rise. Israel looks forward to strengthening ties with all its countries. Many African leaders visit Israel; and I am proud to be the first Israeli prime minister in over 20 years to come to visit sub-Saharan Africa. After many decades, I can say unequivocally: Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. All of our peoples will benefit greatly from our growing partnership.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a deeply moving day for me. Exactly 40 years ago, Israeli soldiers carried out the historic mission at Entebbe, and now I have the privilege to return here as Prime Minister of Israel with some of those same brave soldiers and some of those brave pilots who flew them here.
Forty years ago, they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.
We have gathered here to mark an event that inspired the world and lifted the spirits of my people. At Entebbe, international terrorism suffered a stinging defeat. The rescue mission proved that good can prevail over evil, that hope can triumph over fear.
Today savage terror is once again sweeping the world. We must recognize that the battle against it is indivisible. When terrorism succeeds in one place, it spreads to other places. And when terrorism is defeated anywhere, it is weakened everywhere.
This is why Entebbe was more than an Israeli victory; it was a victory for all humanity in the fight against those who threaten our common civilization.
The raid on Entebbe was a watershed moment in the life of my people. For centuries, Mr. President, we were stateless and powerless to defend ourselves. No one came to our rescue. We were murdered by the millions. The rise of Israel changed all that. Time and again, Israel has successfully defended itself against enemies committed to our destruction.
But it was perhaps at Entebbe where this fundamental transformation was most dramatically seen by the world. On July 4, 1976, Israel launched the most daring rescue mission of all time to save our captive brethren in the heart of Africa. We were powerless no more. We would do whatever it would take to defend our nation and rescue our people.
That night 40 years ago also changed the course of my own life and the lives of those whose relatives died here, Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Pasco Cohen, Ida Boruhovitch and Dora Bloch.
My beloved brother Yoni, who led the force that stormed the old terminal, overcame the terrorists and freed the hostages, was the only soldier who was killed.
I learned from my brother and from others that two things are needed above all to defeat terrorism: clarity and courage. Clarity to distinguish good from evil; and courage to confront evil. Clarity is to know that nothing justifies terrorism. Nothing justifies the deliberate murder of the innocent, the systematic slaughter of civilians. We must condemn all acts of terrorism, whether they are perpetrated in Paris or Brussels, in Orlando or San Bernardino, in Tunis or Nairobi, in Hebron or Netanya. And alongside clarity, courage is the other indispensable quality needed to fight the terrorists and their sponsors, in order to defend our values and our lives.
Today, in this place, where free people delivered a devastating blow to the forces of terror, we and all the civilized nations must rededicate ourselves to the spirit of Entebbe, a spirit of daring and resolve, a spirit of courage and fortitude, a spirit that is determined as ever to defeat terror and to secure our common future.
Thank you, thank you all.”
ENTEBBE AND THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Entebbe and the Price of Freedom
By Jonathan S. Tobin
July 4, 2016
Forty years ago today, Americans were in the midst of celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of their country when a contemporaneous event stirred the imagination of free people around the world. On July 4, 1976, Israeli troops traveled all the way to the middle of Africa to rescue more than 100 hostages held by Palestinian and radical German terrorists. At the time, the effort seemed a miraculous reaffirmation not only of Israeli courage but also of the will of free people to resist those elements that seemed determined to destroy all that the bicentennial symbolized to Americans. While Americans spend this day celebrating the anniversary of their freedom, they and other free peoples do well to remember the miracle of Entebbe and ponder the high price that was paid then and must continue to be paid if liberty is to survive.
The story of Entebbe is well known. Terrorists had hijacked an Air France plane and flew it to Uganda where the notorious dictator Idi Amin welcomed the terrorists and allowed them to use the Entebbe airport terminal to hold their captives. The prisoners, who had been separated Jew from non-Jew in an eerie echo of the Holocaust made all the more sinister by the presence of German terrorists, were threatened with death if Israel did not release other terrorist killers held in prison. While contemplating the possibility of complying with those demands, Israeli leaders also pondered the possibility of a rescue operation. In the end, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres ordered a seemingly improbable rescue attempt. The daring commando raid that followed succeeded against steep odds. Though three of the hostages were killed during the rescue (and one, an elderly woman who had been taken to a hospital, was subsequently murdered on the orders of Amin) more than 100 people were saved. Israeli forces suffered only one fatality – Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu – the commander of the ground forces who had bravely led the assault on the terrorist stronghold.
Unfortunately, Entebbe was just a foretaste of the long terrorist war waged against both Israel and the West that continues to this day. That conflict has been marked by some other victories – notably among them, the Navy SEAL operation that led to the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden stands out – but also many defeats and setbacks suffered by Americans and Israelis.
Indeed, since then belief in our ability as free people to defend ourselves against those who wish to tear down the edifice of liberty has wavered at times. That is as true of Israelis as it is at times of Americans. Both nations have grown tired of the generational war that is being waged against the American “Great Satan” and the Israeli “Little Satan” by the new and more successful generations of terrorists that followed in the footsteps of the radical groups of the 1970s. Amidst the pessimism that so many of us feel about a struggle that has no end in sight, the celebrations that greeted the news of the spectacular heroism of Entebbe can seem like a lost dream.
Even in Israel, the commemoration of Entebbe is tarnished by the desire of many on the left to besmirch the Netanyahu name. For the opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (the younger brother of the Entebbe hero and himself a decorated veteran of the same celebrated Sayaret Maktal unit that Yoni commanded), the celebration of the Entebbe anniversary is an excuse to engage in partisan backbiting and historical revisionism. Criticisms of his visit this week to the place where his brother died as well as to demonstrate Israel’s growing ties in Africa demonstrates the depth of the derangement that Netanyahu inspires on the left, especially in the opinion columns of a newspaper like Haaretz.
But there is good reason to burnish the memory of that intrepid operation and the man who led the mission and selflessly stepped forward to face the fire of the enemy and fell in combat. It’s a reminder that even against steep odds, the forces of hate can be beaten even if the price of that victory is high. Just as America’s Founding Fathers were prepared to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the defense of liberty, so, too, must each subsequent generation be prepared to make such sacrifices. Forty years ago, the Entebbe rescue seemed to many to be a reaffirmation of that same spirit of courage that created the United States. Today, we should take similar comfort from the memory of that victory. The sinister forces that threaten the liberties of free people have gained strength and the hate that nourishes their malice is also on the rise. But Entebbe should give all people of good will confidence to pay no heed to the voices which assert that liberty is in retreat and to carry on with the great and difficult work of defending the freedom that we Americans celebrate today.
THIS IS HOW THE STATE OF ISRAEL WAS BORN AGAIN 40 YEARS AGO
This is how the State of Israel was born again 40 years ago
By Fiamma Nirenstein
Il Giornale (Italy)
July 2, 2016
Only an unavoidable drive, a moral necessity dictated by history, could inspire, on the 4th of July forty years ago, an action like the one Israel dared carry out 3,500 kilometres from its borders, in Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue the 106 hostages held prisoner in the airport terminal by a Palestinian-German commando. It is perhaps the most incredible gesture ever made by a country to state a principle and to save over one hundred human lives. The commando of Israeli soldiers that carried out the mission consisted of one hundred young people divided into teams. The first assault team was led by Jonathan Netanyahu, the older brother of the current Prime Minister. “Yoni” was the only soldier to lose his life in Operation Thunderbolt, later renamed Operation Jonathan in his memory.
The objective was to rescue by surprise the Jewish prisoners held by the terrorists, thus definitely putting an end to the idea that Jews are easy prey of the Anti-Semitic furor that, in various forms, has persistently rained upon them throughout history while the world looks on with indifference.
Two members of the Palestinian group of Wadie Haddad, together with a German man and woman, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, members of the left-wing terrorist group Baader-Meinhof, high-jacked the Air France 139 flight from Tel Aviv to Athens and Paris. The terrorists boarded at Athens armed with guns and Molotov bottles hidden in candy boxes and a false Champagne bottle. Böse, who the night before had stayed at Hotel Rodos, penetrated the airplane pilot’s cabin while his comrades held the 246 passengers under threat of fire, declared himself the new commander of the flight now in the hands of the “Che Guevara Force”, as he called it, and renamed the plane “Haifa”.
The airplane was directed to land in Benghazi for refuelling and then on to Entebbe, in Uganda, the country of the violently crazy and opportunistic dictator Idi Amin Dada, who hosted and aided the terrorists in order to foster relations with the Arab world and exploit the prey the terrorists brought to the airport’s largest hangar. The entire kidnapping action can be divided into two phases, which evolved with increasing brutality as the actors inexorably revealed their roles. The Palestinians became the beasts on the leashes of the German communists whose behaviour progressively morphed into that typical of their Nazi parents by instinct and by choice.
From the very first, the obvious target are the Jews. The Jews are the typical new-ancient enemy, the hostage beyond the bars needed “to fight the Zionist imperialism and capitalism”, as Böse explained, reduced to objects, a human sub-species, bargaining chips to be exchanged with forty Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. The woman, in an escalating mimesis of the Kapo model, yells “Schnell, schnell” as she pushes the crowd of travellers towards the hangar/prison, like deportees getting off the train at Auschwitz. Sheonly showed a greater degree of hate when an elderly prisoner showed her the tattooed concentration camp number on his arm.
Together with Böse, once all of the terrified passengers have entered and slumped in a heap on the floor in a mingled mass of children and adults, she performs the ritual that most probably led the Israeli government to attempt the impossible: the selection of the Jews, providing Anti-Semitism with its modern face, i.e. its identification with the State of Israel. The passports are piled onto a table and all of the Israeli citizens are led into an adjacent hall through a hole prepared by Idi Amin Dada’s willing soldiers. Out of the initial 249 passengers,106 remain, including the French airplane crew members who refuse to abandon the prisoners. The Jews are called one by one, by name, and the emulation of a Nazi scenario becomes is clear. The other 148 passengers are released and allowed to leave on the Air France airplane, that takes off with its load of “Arians”.
To understand how Israel arrived at the decision to attempt the unattemptable, one must imagine that the scene in Jerusalem is of a total anguish: according to the tradition and to a famous movie about the operation, one of Yitzhak Rabin’s friends whose daughter was among the hostages asked him directly (in the midst of the storm of questions by the press, the radio, the public opinion to Shimon Peres, Ministry of Defence, to Motta Gur, Chief of Staff): “How long will we allow them to play roulette with our children?” The massacre of Maalot in 1974, in which the Palestinians had murdered 22 school children, was still fresh, as well as the Munich slaughter of the Israeli athletes. Terribly anxious days went by, and the uncertainty lasted throughout the eight-hour flight of the Hercules that transported to their target the Israeli rescue team through the night. The government permission arrived only when the commando was already close to its destination, flying through a lightning storm.
But in the three previous days, as the 4th of July midday deadline approached, when the terrorists said they would start killing the hostages, a plan had already been drafted in silence, tested, reviewed during anxious meetings. Mostly Netanyahu and Muki Betzer, who was at the head of the special Sayeret Matkal unit prepared it together with Commander Dan Shomron. Rabin, Peres and Motta Gur, even if they lacked all the information usually necessary for such a risky operation. Yoni met Shimon Peres in private when he and Rabin were on the brink of negotiating with the terrorists. Peres asked Yoni if he thought he could make it. Yoni answered that he thought it was possible, that they might well succeed, that often enough one didn’t have all of the necessary information when launching a large-scale operation. Rabin has finally been the one who had the guts to give the go-ahead.
Many important characters, such as Matan Vilnai or Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak (who organised the return refuelling operations in Kenya),were involved in the implementation and set-up of the plan at supersonic speed. From the first of four aircraft that left Tel Aviv on that night, counting on the surprise factor, a commando of 29 people on a Mercedes followed by two jeeps headed first towards the terminal, simulating a visit by Idi Amin Dada. A sudden gun battle with the guards, at the terminal, shot Yoni down but did not stop the liberation of the hostages and the killing of the terrorists. Despite shooting, the Israeli rescue team went ahead and succeeded.
Yoni’s fortitude – as well as Betzer’s, who today claims a greater amount of acknowledgement than the one he received in Yoni’s shadow – has left a permanent mark in Israel’s collective memory. The image of the generous young hero cut down in the field in the full of his young life, has become the model of insouciant audacity that the whole world envies of Israel, the same which has led this country to bomb the Osirak reactor (another mission impossible), and to kidnap Eichmann, as well as to win the Six-Day war with unimaginable speed.
Entebbe is, together with the Six-Day war, the achievement that more than any other has changed the image and the perception itself of the Jewish people in the eyes of the world. No longer sacrificial lambs but owners of their own lives, protagonists of actions deemed impossible by the largest part of humanity. No longer abandoned to their destiny and to the violence of their enemies, Jews had since those events the right to think that someone will come for them: they will be the Israeli soldiers.
Since Entebbe, Jews are no longer alone. Three Israeli hostages died, including an elderly woman who had the misfortune of being taken to an Ugandan hospital. Yoni’s death is one of Israel’s most tragic episodes. The explosion of joy for the return of children, wives, and mothers was wounded by this, just as today the daily joy of life of this alive democratic country is saddened by daily terrorist attacks. And as in the past, today very few in the world expresses solidarity for its tragedies, let alone comes in Israel help Israel, as the state of the Jews does for other countries plagued by terrorism.
In the wake of Entebbe, the UN Security Council debated a request for Israel’s condemnation – yes, that’s right – and Kurt Waldheim, its president, described the incident as a “serious violation of a member State’s sovereignty”. As a small consolation we can remember that the motion was rejected. But still today many of the responses Israel gives to terrorism are still a matter of blame for the UN.